Dates: April 12 – 15, 2011
So, at the end of that long and trying day, I was in Istanbul on the morning of the 12th. I had a host in Istanbul but I needed to wait for her to finish work. I found myself in Kadıköy, which is the center of the Asian side of Istanbul (side note: as I realised later, the Asian side of Istanbul is a lot more European and vice versa!). I could see the Hydarpasa Train Station from where I was so I had 2 options:
- Drop my bags at the train station and go do some sightseeing.
- Walk around with all my stuff for a while and then duck into a cafe for a few hours and update the blog.
I chose #2.
But before we get to that, I should mention that the pictures here are from Internet sources because I have no pictures of Turkey! My laptop was stolen and I hadn’t backed up the pics. But that’s a story for another day.
The first thing I noticed was the number of bagel sellers and tulips all over the place. The bagels are cheap and filling and right versions are really tasty (the one covered with peanuts is my favourite). So I walked around Kadıköy, and after a doner and a chai and paying another exorbitant amount for a leak, I found myself in a cybercafe, paying a fraction of the cost to use my own laptop. The guys at the cafe were really nice and one of them even gifted me a copy of the Lonely Planet Istanbul! This guy, the other friendly people that helped me out with directions, etc and the bus driver from yesterday made up for the rudeness of the border people.
I then made my way to a cafe as suggested by my host to meet her there, and from there we went home and engaged in a the traditional Ottoman-Era Turkish pastime of playing FIFA on PlayStation 3, followed by a pasta dinner. Even on this first day the hustle and bustle of Istanbul didn’t escape me. It reminded me in many ways of Hong Kong. The water setting, the local transport ferries, the never-ending rush and the organized chaos.
The next day (13th) the weather was good(ish) and two of my host’s friends wanted to go to Büyükada (Big Island) so I joined them. Büyükada is a part of the Princes’ Islands, known to locals simply as “islands” (adalar).
Now the only thing interesting about Büyükada is that there are no cars on the island and that there are plenty of old wooden houses and people get around on bicycles and horse carts. It was fun for about 45 seconds. Perhaps the charm sinks in if you stay overnight… There were some impeccable views from the top off the hill though, which also hosts a monastery of St George. And guess what? Just like the one in Syria, this was Greek Orthodox too!
The Istanbul “Let Me Buy You a Drink” Scam
Later the evening of the April the 13th turned out to be my lucky day as I very narrowly escaped a famous old Istanbul scam. Here’s what happened: I was walking down Istanbul’s Istiklal Caddesi when two guys approached me and one of them said something to me in Turkish. When I looked confused he said that he thought I was Turkish and then we started talking about this and that, while walking down the road. He told me that he was a businessman from Iraqi Kurdistan and he was staying at a hotel nearby. He was really nice, we got talking about life in Kurdistan, Saddam Hussein, the aftermath of the US invasion etc. We reached the end of the road.
“All right then, I’ve got to take a boat to the other side else I’d be late. It was really nice chatting with you.”
“Come on, let’s go to a bar, let me buy you a beer”
But I felt compelled to refuse. I felt silly. I mean, what kind of a man refuses free beer? Especially when it comes with a promise of intelligent and enriching conversation?
A smart kind, that’s who.
For later the same evening while browsing through some forums I came across scam warnings that made me shiver. It was almost the exact script that was used on me! If I had agreed to the beer, they would have taken me to a conniving bar and the upshot would be a much lighter wallet. You can read more about the scam here. His entire story and descriptions of life under Saddam were nothing but bullshit. What a narrow escape! But the moral of the story here is not to avoid talking to strangers but to be alert and know about the popular scams.
The Wrath of the Weather Gods
The weather was really crappy almost the whole time in Istanbul. On the 14th it was raining really heavily but I still decided to go out, and got some good real time advice on the Facebook page! I decided to go to the markets near the Yeni Cami because they are indoors. Problem was: every other tourist in Istanbul had the same idea. I went on to Istanbul Modern (free that day) and it was really beautiful, with some great and interesting art and some incredibly nonsensical stuff, as is typical in modern art museums. After that I went to buy some groceries and cooked chhole and rice for my lovely hostesses. As I sucked on a piece of ginger, I realized that I had cooked the meal as much for myself as for them. I was eating “Indian” food after two weeks and I missed the flavours.
The next day (15th) I first went to stare at the remains of an ancient aqueduct, the Valens Aqueduct. Right under the massive aqueduct on one end is a tea shop. If you are the kind that can resist having a cup of tea under a millennia-old aqueduct I want nothing to do with you. Seriously, go away now. I spent some time there dreaming about its old glory and headed to the Sultanahmet “Blue” Mosque and Hagia Sophia – the crown jewels of Istanbul’s attractions.
Since the weather was good the crowds were out in full force. It took over 30 mins to get into the Blue Mosque and I gave up trying to enter the Hagia Sophia after about 45 mins of standing in line for the tickets. There was no queue at the Archaeological museum though and I went there thinking that I’d go to the other attractions later, but I got so absorbed that I ended up spending over 4 hours in the museum, and it was almost closing time when I came out. The story of Troy and its discoveries (yes, plural: it was discovered over and over again in multiple layers) especially captivated me. I walked around some more in the old neighbourhoods, took in some incredible views of the Galata tower and the shorelines and headed back for some much needed rest.
- Transportation (Boats, Buses, Dolmus, Trams & Horses): 32.1 TL
- Food and Drink: 51 TL
- Misc (Entrance fees, toilets, phone card etc): 37 TL
Total (for 4 days): 120.1 TL or 3424 INR (76.5 USD)